Wednesday, October 28, 2009

UK developing disability-themed TV drama

From Disability Now in the UK:

As Channel 4 announces its commissioning of what it hopes might be the equivalent for disability of Queer As Folk, Alison Walsh talks to Ian Macrae about her brave new venture

There’s nothing new about the moc-doc on Channel 4: who can forget Chris Morris’s wonderful squirm-making exposé of spoof drug “cake”, with Noel Edmonds’s outrage about as convincing as one of his own “Gotcha” stunts.

But perhaps Cast Offs, commissioned jointly by Alison Walsh and Camilla Campbell, owes more to reality TV than a current affairs shocker.

“It’s drama done in a mock documentary way,” says Walsh, the Channel’s editorial manager for disability, “telling the stories of six disabled characters who’re left on an island for a long time. We follow their struggles and the relationships that build up between them and there are also flashbacks to their lives before they went to the island. So it’s trying to show the reality of disabled people’s lives in an entertaining way.”

Whether or not that old trick can be turned remains to be seen. But certainly the writing team gives the show a handy helping of contemporary cultural cred. Jack Thorne (Shameless, Skins, The Scouting Book for Boys) has teamed up with The Thick of It’s Tony Roche. They’re joined by Alex Bulmer, a blind writer who recently worked on the Radio 4 dramatisation of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.

Walsh says, “Jack Thorne, who has a disability himself, is a fantastic writer. He has a subtlety and fearlessness that I’ve not seen anywhere else.”

As for the on-screen talent, the Channel is being coy about that, preferring to talk about impairments. As its press release says, “The cast will feature a range of impairments including blindness, deafness, dwarfism and cherubism.”

Walsh expands on that slightly: “It’s a mix of new and more experienced talent. I was really keen we get some new people in the series.”

From Walsh’s standpoint, TV drama remains one of the last conquests in terms of disability.

“I think we’ve made a lot of progress against getting disabled people across mainstream shows, but I wanted to do something that would catapult disabled actors into the limelight.”

She reacts very positively to my suggestion that this could have the same sort of impact for disabled people as Queer As Folk did for the gay agenda.

“It feels that ground-breaking to me and as if it should be making that amount of noise.”